Published on Fuller Seminary’s Burner Blog for Pastors and Leaders.
Read the Article here
by Marcus J. Carlson
My love-hate Relationship with the Lectionary
I have a confession. I have a love-hate relationship with the lectionary. I have served mostly in denominational churches and in the past decade I have had to develop a relationship with the lectionary to some level (whether completely or partially). I believe there are some benefits as well as some drawbacks to the lectionary, which combined with my own theology, personality, gifts and styles has led me to this love-hate relationship with the lectionary.
There are many benefits to the lectionary; the first benefit is that it helps a pastor and a church cover the whole breadth of scripture over several years. While it does not hit every verse, it is very comprehensive which is not easy to accomplish when planning on your own. It is easy to become monotonous or focus only on your favorite scriptures or topics, which is another benefit of the lectionary. The lectionary is also helpful because it is seasonal in the sense that it honors the church seasons and helps bring them to light. Unfortunately, have lost sight of many of the church seasons in a lot of churches. The lectionary also reduces the workload of choosing scriptures. Additionally, there is also the historical value of the lectionary, both in its formation and selection. We have a tendency to only value the new, which in the case of the church is a huge mistake, especially when we as individuals pick and choose what parts of our history as a church we pay attention to. The final benefit of the lectionary is the three-year rotation that allows you to visit some of the same scriptures. You might focus on a different lesson from the last time you preached it, but the word of God is alive and there is always something new to glean in a variety of seasons of life and ministry. This can be a problem if you end up repeating sermons over and over again, which I do not see as right, but have seen many pastors do. These are some of the reasons that I love the lectionary.
There are also some drawbacks to the lectionary; the first drawback is that it causes a lack of freedom for preaching, the pastor and the church. More importantly, it is not always contextual, meaning it does not always fit your context, the people of your church and community and what is happening at any given time in church or culture, not that this should always dictate the sermon. The lectionary can also be forced. I have had countless times while preaching the lectionary where I have found it very difficult to pick a lesson that I could preach with passion and make relevant, and so I probably did so with less quality. It can also create a sense of preaching laziness. I once had a teenager complain to me about the sermons at a church I served, saying, “I have been here my whole life and I have heard this same sermon three times.” I think this is unfortunate and wrong on many levels. The lectionary can lack freshness and relevance, which should not be too important, but should matter some as we lead our people into a deeper, life-changing relationship with God. The final drawback of the lectionary in my mind is that it can be too academic. It is rooted more in an academic and perhaps liberal approach to scripture than it is in a relational, transformative approach. This can be hard for congregations to find meaning in something they cannot understand.
At the end of the day, I have found it all depends on your context, but my personal approach is to use a combination of the lectionary and sermon series. I don’t pick and choose which scriptures to use each week, but I rather do it several weeks at a time to create connections and consistency. I think the lectionary is exceptionally helpful on special church days (Pentecost, Ash Wednesday etc) and during some of the special seasons such as Lent and Advent.